A Fine Vintage
Longing to emerge from the shadows cast by big brother Rolex, Tudor is a brand striving for a sense of ineffable cool. The magic bit of alchemy that just lures customers in. Plaza Watch meets David Cerrato, Tudor watch designer and brand manager, to discu
David Cerrato does not look like the sort of man who partakes of the kind of ‘action man’ lifestyle that the watches he designs suggest. Immaculately groomed (not wishing to fall prey to stereotype, but he is Italian) in sharp shoes and an elegantly floppy bow-tie, Cerrato was designer for his motherland’s mega-brand Panerai before taking up what some might see as a tougher challenge: reviving Tudor, Rolex’s often overshadowed little brother.
Tudor, some might know, came into this world in February 1926, when watchmaker Veuve de Philippe HÜther registered the Tudor name for Hans Wilsdorf, Rolex’s founder, with Wilsdorf taking control of the name and launching the first watches to bear the distinctive rose logo in 1936. And then, as many more know, in a mighty demonstration of the power of brand, for several decades made Tudor watches to much the same standards and using much the same parts (the likes of the Oyster waterproof case and rotor mechanism) as his Rolexes, but sold them as their more affordable alternative. The similarities in all but name and price led some to cast aspersions. With something of a spell off the radar for Tudor, have times changed?
“Although Tudor has long had that ‘poor man’s Rolex’ image, I do really think that perception is changing,” says Cerrato. “People have seen five years of development in Tudor creating its own language and now re-launching in new markets and those it hasn’t been in for decades, and it’s actually draw- ing a completely new crowd – those who aren’t even stopping to look to see what Rolex is proposing. They look at the two brands as having nothing to do with each other – though of course Tudor still gets to benefit from Rolex’s technical knowledge and finishing.”
It’s why, although Tudor’s is an horizontal operation (it buys in its movements, for example and Rolex’s is entirely vertical) the Tudor Black Shield can have its single piece ceramic case made entirely in-house. And that has not been the only model to impress. The Black Bay has already become something of a cult object – like a Rolex Submariner with red and now blue bezel options, and yet, thanks to a more 60s inflection, distinctive in its own right.
Also the new version of the Ranger – bigger and more polished than the original – retains the same spirit of stripped back functionality, while adding appealing touches like a camouflage strap that is woven, not printed, by a specialist company in France.
“It’s about reinterpreting some classic designs but not simply reissuing them,” says Cerrato. “It’s important to do it in a very fresh language, which is something I think Tudor has always been good at. Actually, it’s pretty hard to reinterpret a watch that might already be considered ‘timeless’, in order to create a new design that also needs to be considered ‘timeless’. It can’t be too classic, nor too bling.”
“It’s about reinterpreting some classic designs but not simply reissuing them. It’s important to do it in a very fresh language, which is something I think Tudor has always been good at.”
Naysayers may question whether ‘heritage with a twist’ – reminiscent of Cerrato’s line at Panerai too – is the right approach to take if making a real impact on the market is the intention. Although Cerrato disagrees that these models are re-issues, they will surely be considered in that category. But he adds that a certain retrospective appeal to design is what the consumer wants now, and in many other fields too, from cars through to fashion.
“I think after the financial crisis of 2008 there was a move in watchmaking away from crazy design to more vintage-inspired design – and the fact is that any watch that represented timeless design then, still does now,” he argues. “Furthermore, this more analogue, older way of thinking in design is being embraced because there’s something more human to it. I really don’t think it’s a fad but a very real, very deep shift in society.”
Most of society is, arguably, also after more bang for its buck. While the new Tudor is already considering a plan in the medium-term to create its own movements for certain, special pieces (they won’t be Rolex movements, Cerrato assures) for the time being it uses ETA movements, he explains, because they’re both “very reliable” and also because they allow for what he calls “an incredibly aggressive price”.
It is, he concedes, a crowded market that Tudor is aiming to crack – alongside all those pieces from TAG Heuer, Bell & Ross and Omega, some of which are able to offer the aficionado more, such as a proprietary movement. But, while he suggests that “there is always room for timeless design with good value”, what Tudor has in spades – at least for the time being – is a certain cool. Cerrato has already selected at least another 20 Tudor watches in the archive that he thinks have enough of this ineffable quality to make them worthy of re-interpretation.
“I just have a gut feeling about them, which is what makes them appeal,” he says. “I love cooking and my grandmother gives me her recipes but she can’t tell me how she makes what she makes. It’s just there in her dishes. And that’s why Tudor watches can still appeal to the kind of collector who has 8,000 watches already and is probably used to buying much more expensive, more mechanically sophisticated pieces. There’s a certain seduction to Tudor. It has, and needs, a very strong take on style. Each watch has a specific narrative to it – its history, its creative process.”
Of course, it helps that Cerrato is – unusually for the watch industry – overseeing not only the design of new Tudor watches, but also their brand image, so the two are developed in tandem. “And that makes for much more consistency than designing a watch and then trying to find a story to tell about it afterwards,” he says. Besides which, Cerrato, with his sharp shoes and floppy bow tie, is a pretty cool guy. Ergo, some might say, cool watches.